Ceci n’est pas un Orval

IMG_2573

We see here:

  • one 33 cl bottle of Orval (bottled September 2020)
  • one 275 ml bottle of Harvey’s Imperial Extra Double Stout (bought December 2020, probably not much older)
  • one Orval glass

Let the dance begin (one for the proggies out there)!

I didn’t pour this one quite as clean as I’d like, but it’s not actually murky. Only six months old, so pretty lively. Tasting notes, as if I didn’t know what an Orval tastes like by now:

Sharp, but with an accessible, fruity best-bitter quality, together with a musty, old-books overtone that never becomes overpowering; the finish brings the sharpness and mustiness back, together with a big throat-drying bitterness, making it weirdly quaffable.

So I drank a bit of it, and when I’d made a bit of space I topped it up with the Harvey’s IEDS. This is what resulted:

This was quite the transformation. All that Bretty mustiness disappeared, replaced by – well, here are my notes:

Black coffee Orval? Orvalspresso? Black coffee and marmalade in one? Bitterness and some sweetness in the body – although oddly the bitter finish is muted now.

I’ve found the IEDS a bit of a beast in the past – a brandy-dark-chocolate-and-Marmite beast, admittedly, but with rough roasty edges, and flashes of the kind of sharpness you can only call gastric. None of those negatives now; just an espresso martini made entirely of beer. Really very nice indeed.

But I wasn’t going to stop there…

How much more black could it get? I asked myself.

This version – more or less a 50-50 mix – was a bit of a let-down. In fact it tasted of very little at all, transporting me back to the days when I used to take the rough edges off Holt’s bitter with a bottle of Guinness:

Black and tan! A light, oddly savoury start, followed by a full-textured but light-tasting body; dark-chocolate bitterness on the finish.

Very little going on at all, really; alarmingly drinkable for a beer in the region of 7.5%, but nothing particularly surprising or, to be brutally honest, interesting.

There was only one thing to do now:

“None. None more black.”

At this stage the IEDS started to get the upper hand, and things started to look up on the tasting front:

Fruity start blending into a chocolate milkshake body, blending into a dark-chocolate finish

is all I wrote, but I can assure you that it was really impressive. That word ‘blending’ is the key: it seemed to combine three quite distinct flavours (none of them very ‘beery’), but in a way that seemed perfectly natural and without any incongruity. Full-bodied – almost but not quite to the point of drinking its strength – and smooth; really very smooth.

Was it worth it? A cautious Yes, I think: the 3:1 and 1:3 mixes were terrific, even if the 1:1 left something to be desired. At least, it was worth it as far as the IEDS was concerned. The stout was very much in charge throughout: even at 3:1 Orval to IEDS, you’d never mistake what you were drinking for a pale beer. The ‘black and tan’ effect – where two very different beers effectively shave off each other’s sharp edges – took the roughness out of the IEDS, making it drink smoother and sweeter; but the Orval wasn’t smoothed so much as muted, losing the Brett and some of the bitterness. In fact I’m wondering now whether it would be worth repeating the experiment with a less special pale beer – perhaps a plain ordinary, common-or-garden Harvey’s Sussex Best?

PS Apologies for the enormous images. WordPress used to handle this kind of thing rather well, but now – thanks to the whizzy new ‘block editor’, which I’ve avoided for as long as possible but is now the only one available – it really doesn’t. Anyone got any recommendations for alternative blogging platforms?

2 Comments

  1. Posted 31 March, 2021 at 8:53 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I lack enough moral fibre to drink Harvey’s Imperial Stout neat so I always blend it with a weaker stout. And I’ve blended my homebrewed version of Orval with lacklustre pale ales to spice them up a bit. Not tried blending Harvey’s and Orval though but I’m curious now…

  2. sheffieldhatter
    Posted 1 April, 2021 at 2:56 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Interesting! As a fan of both beers I heartily disapprove of course.

    The notion of using a “less special pale beer” reminds me of the Theakstons XB blend: it is made (in the absence of a cask of XB on the premises) by mixing 2/3rds Theakstons Bitter with 1/3rd Old Peculier. I’ve not tried this with a bottle of the Bitter, because I wouldn’t know what to do with the remaining third – drinking it being the first option to be ruled out.

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